Second Cock Crow 

Bart Ehrman

The Problem Language as She is Spoke
The Second Cock Crow The First Cock Crow
The Watch System Fulfillment

"How many times did the cock crow?

"Peter followed Jesus (PBUH), from a distance, to watch his prosecution. Jesus (PBUH) told him that he (Peter) will deny him (Jesus (PBUH), three times in that night before the rooster crows two times according to Mark; "Before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny me thrice." (Mark 14/72); one time according to the other three evangelists. Luke said, "Before the cock crow this day thou shalt deny me thrice." (Luke 22/61), (see Matthew 26/74, John 18/27). Three evangelists (Luke, Matthew, and John) mentioned only one crowing in the story, unlike Mark, who mentioned two crowing."
('Was Jesus Crucified for Our Atonement?' Monqith Ben Mahmoud Assaqar, PhD)

Thriceholy Radio

The Problem

The problem: how many cock crows? (This is a 'Bible Contradiction'):

  • “And Jesus saith unto him, Verily I say unto thee, That this day, even in this night, before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny me thrice.”
  • (Mark 14:30).

  • “Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, That this night, before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice.”
  • (Matthew 26:34).

Language as She is Spoke

Some general notes about language: a speaker who wishes to relay the words of another has several ways of doing so, none of them illegitimate, dishonest or contradictory. There is direct quotation: 'She said, "You are to go to the store."' There is indirect quotation: 'She said for you to go to the store.' A speaker may paraphrase or summarize without, normally, being suspected of a crime. If the speaker quoted used a foreign language, it will be necessary to translate; and two translators, acting in perfect good faith, can employ different words. If speakers of the two languages also use different methods of reckoning time, the translator may find it necessary to recast the time-language to avoid misunderstanding.

The Second Cock Crow: Dawn

Most of us count one cock crow: at dawn. But the Romans counted at least two. It's the "second" cock-crow which resounds at dawn:

"He may shut the windows, cover
   cracks with curtains, lock
The doors, douse the light, make
   everyone leave, let no one sleep
Near at hand: but before the dawn the
   neighborhood barkeep
Will know what he was doing at second
   cock crow
, will hear
Also what his chief cooks and carvers
   invented." (Juvenal, Satires, IX, 105-109)

Some centuries later, Synesius of Cyrene's ship ran aground at the second cock-crow, evidently dawn:

"Contrary to all prevision we had shaken off the rapacious violence of our enforced run, and we carried along during a day and a night, and at the second crowing of the cock, before we knew it, behold we were on a sharp reef which ran out from the land like a short peninsula." (Synesius of Cyrene, Letter 4).

The pagan revert Julian offered sacrifice at the second cock-crowing, evidently dawn:

"Finally, on a previously appointed festal day, he ascended Mount Casius, a wooded hill rising on high with a rounded contour, from which at the second cock-crow [secundis galliciniis] the sun is first seen to rise. (Ammianus Marcellinus, Roman Antiquities, Book XXII, 14.4).

The First: Dead of Night

If the "second cock crow" is dawn, then when is the first? The middle of the night. One of the guests at Trimalchio's dinner tells a werewolf tale:

"It so happened that our master had gone to Capua to attend to some odds and ends of business and I seized the opportunity, and persuaded a guest of the house to accompany me as far as the fifth mile-stone. He was a soldier, and as brave as the very devil. We set out about cock-crow, the moon was shining as bright as midday, and came to where the tombstones are...Was ever anyone nearer dead from fright than me? Then I whipped out my sword and cut every shadow along the road to bits, till I came to the house of my mistress...My Melissa wondered why I was out so late. "Oh, if you'd only come sooner," she said, "you could have helped us"...I couldn't keep my eyes shut any longer when I heard that, and as soon as it grew light, I rushed back to our Gaius' house like an innkeeper beaten out of his bill, and when I came to the place where the clothes had been turned into stone, there was nothing but a pool of blood!" (Petronius, Satyricon, Volume 2, The Dinner of Trimalchio, Chapter 62).

Notice, please, they leave "about cock-crow," he has time to watch his companion turn into a werewolf at the cemetery, he has time after that to get to his girl-friend's house, she wonders why he was "out so late," and then, unable to sleep, he rushes back home "as soon as it grew light." Manifestly, "cock-crow" is not dawn but sometime during the dark of the night. This was the first cock-crow. The second cock-crow resounded at dawn.

The antiquarian Macrobius fixes cock-crow, in the Roman "civil day," at some time after midnight but before first light:

"The divisions of the civil day are these: first, 'the middle turning point of the night;' then 'cock crow;' after that, 'the silence,' when the cocks are silent and men are still asleep; then 'first light,' when day becomes discernible; after that, 'morning,' when the light of day is clear." (Macrobius, The Saturnalia, Book I, Chapter 3:12)

What is Jesus likely to have said: 'second cock-crow,' meaning dawn, or 'cock-crow,' meaning dawn? Most people on this earth do not count two cock-crows, though the Romans did. (As will be seen, the Talmud counts up to three cock crows, but without sufficient context to distinguish simple iterations from different watches.) Opinions differ, but it seems very likely to me that He said 'cock-crow,' meaning dawn, which is how the great mass of humanity have heard the rooster's daily alarm clock. The Romans were somewhat eccentric in 'hearing' the rooster crow loudest at night: "But the cock is wont to utter loud chants in the deeper hours of the night; but, when the time of morning is already at hand, he frames small and slender tones. . ." (Gregory the Great, the Book of Pastoral Rule, Part III, Chapter 39, p. 628, PNF 2:12).

Tradition suggests the Gospel of Mark was written for a Roman readership: "Mark the disciple and interpreter of Peter wrote a short gospel at the request of the brethren at Rome embodying what he had heard Peter tell." (Jerome, Lives of Illustrious Men, Chapter 8). Several characteristics of this gospel mesh with this expectation. All of the evangelists portray Jesus as an itinerant exorcist, but Mark is much more interested in this aspect of His activity than are the others. Why? The population density of demons is not the same all over. Rome is the haunt of demons: "And he cried mightily with a strong voice, saying, Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and is become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird." (Revelation 18:2). Thus, "The many instances of exorcism in the gospels are evidence of the dynamic power of Jesus over the spiritual adversaries." (Donald Guthrie, A Shorter Life of Christ, p. 147). A missionary to pagan India interacts with people who are actively seeking communication with demons,— pagan religious life centers around the quest to establish communications with this fallen corner of creation,— whereas a missionary to post-Christian Europe would encounter fewer people who actually want to be demon-possessed. While modern-day Wiccans labor mightily to repopulate Europe with its expelled and exiled demon inhabitants, they have not yet achieved this goal. If the title page fell off the Indian missionary's notes and the European, we might well figure the text which mentioned demons more often belonged to the Indian missionary, because that's where the demons are. Rome was where the demons were, their capital city so to speak. It mattered to a Roman readership that Jesus triumphed over the demons. While casting out demons is a legitimate concern of Judaic religion, it is scarcely a central one, the region being too clean; in pagan regions where solicitation of demon habitation was a central religious focus, it is more to the point. Mark 'fits' with Rome, the only people ever to count two cock-crows.

Whichever of the two phrases the Lord actually said, the evangelists must have anticipated a problem with their readership, who either did, or did not, count two cock crows. If Mark had only mentioned one cock-crow, his Roman readers would have thought the Lord meant that Peter would deny him thrice before the middle of the night, that is to say almost immediately, which is not what He meant nor what happened: He meant before the dawn. But if the other evangelists had raised the 'two cock-crow' scheme to a readership unfamiliar with those two distinct times of night, they might have misunderstood it to mean simple iterations, which is how Bart Ehrman misunderstands it. There is one reality being pointed to: dawn, but people are aiming two different pointers at it: 'cock-crow' and 'second cock-crow.'

When did the Romans start counting two cock-crows? To guess wildly, perhaps when freight started moving through the city of Rome at night? It must have made a frightful racket, waking up some sleepers, both feathered and unfeathered. This is a case of people telling time differently, not a contradiction. When in Rome, do as the Romans do. If Jesus was understood to have meant that Peter would deny Him before first light, then the cock must crow twice, because the Romans thought he crowed the first time in the very early morning, well before first light.

The four watches were a military contrivance: "As it seemed impossible for a sentinel to remain a whole night on his post, the watches were divided by the hourglass into four parts, that each man might stand only three hours." (Flavius Vegetus Renatus, The Military Institutions of the Romans, Kindle location 980). The naturalist Pliny asserts that the cock crows every three hours, which correlates, happily, with military practice:

"Next after the peacock, the animal that acts as our watchman by night, and which Nature has produced for the purpose of arousing mortals to their labors, and dispelling their slumbers, shows itself most actuated by feelings of vanity. The cock knows how to distinguish the stars, and marks the different periods of the day, every three hours, by his note. These animals go to roost with the setting of the sun, and at the fourth watch of the camp recall man to his cares and toils. They do not allow the rising of the sun to creep upon us unawares, but by their note proclaim the coming day, and they prelude their crowing by clapping their sides with their wings." (Pliny the Elder, Natural History, 10.24)

It is difficult to fathom how the idea that the rooster crows every three hours on the hour ever got established, insomuch as he does not. In Pliny's way of reckoning, the only reason why day-break counts as the second cock-crow rather than the fourth is that the Romans, as we do, started the new day at midnight. Is it a self-fulfilling prophecy?: roosters respond to disturbance, so when two companies of sentinels start in motion about the camp, one retiring and one setting out, crowing will accompany this burst of activity, even though humans, not birds, thumbed through the almanac to correlate star risings and settings with the time of night. Like 'Clever Hans' the counting horse, the birds may time their behavior by cues they are picking up from their busy human neighbors, while meanwhile the humans are marvelling that the birds know how to tell time.

For most of their sojourn together, humans and chickens are symbionts. So long as the hens are laying, they need not fear a violent end; that comes later. Today we do not expect to find chickens in a big city, but prior to modern refrigeration, no hens meant no eggs. How they and their human protectors coordinated their schedules in a city that never slept is unknown. Juvenal complains there was so much road noise in Rome it was not possible to sleep: "Here most of the sick die off because they get no sleep. . .for what rented flat Allows you to sleep? Only rich men in this city have that. There lies the root of the illness— carts rumbling in narrow streets— And cursing drivers stalled in a traffic jam— it defeats All hope of rest." (The Satires of Juvenal, Satire III, 232, pp. 57-58). This noise pollution was compounded by the changing watch. Tacitus speaks of an 'announcement' of the watch: "When the king continually asked the reason of whatever he noticed which was new to him, the announcements, for example, by a centurion of the beginning of each watch, the dismissal of the guests by the sound of a trumpet, and the lighting by a torch from beneath of an altar in front of the headquarters, Corbulo, by exaggerating everything, filled him with admiration of our ancient system." (Tacitus Annals, Book XV, Chapter 30). This 'announcement,' according to Renatus accompanied by trumpet, may have created a self-fulfilling prophecy, waking these watchful birds: "All guards are mounted by the sound of trumpet and relieved by the sound of cornet." (Flavius Vegetus Renatus, The Military Institutions of the Romans, Kindle location 980).

Crowing every three hours on the hour unprompted strains credulity past the breaking point. However, given the farm-yard reality that roosters are liable to crow at all hours of the day and night, there is an element of convention in assigning times to the 'cock-crow,' or multiple 'cock-crows.' In dealing with the two Roman 'cock-crows,' as Pliny attests, we are dealing with two things: a conventional time-marker, not any random 'cockle-doodle-do.' . .and a natural event, that sounds like 'cockle-doodle-do.' Into the interval between these two, this 'Bible contradiction' falls.

If, for whatever reason, the Romans counted day-break as the second cock-crow, then a writer who wishes a Roman readership to understand 'day-break' had better count two cock-crows along with them. If I count hours from dawn, and you count them from midnight, or if I count two cock crows and you count one, I will either have to explain my system to you or adopt your system; otherwise we misunderstand one another. If I say 'let's meet at three,' but we count our hours differently, then we will both turn up as no-shows: the other party will be left wondering what happened. It is so easy to avoid this unwanted outcome: use time-markers known to be familiar to the other party,— that you wonder why the atheists will not allow it.

The fourth century pilgrim Aetheria continues to count an interval between 'first cockcrow' and 'daylight,' as for instance in her narrative of the events of Holy Week:

"And at the first cockcrow they come down from the Imbomon with hymns, and arrive at the place where the Lord prayed, as it is written in the Gospel: and He was withdrawn (from them) about a stone's cast, and prayed, and the rest. There is in that place a graceful church. The bishop and all the people enter, a prayer suitable to the place and to the day is said, with one suitable hymn, and the passage from the Gospel is read where He said to His disciples: Watch, that ye enter not into temptation; the whole passage is read through and prayer is made. And then all, even to the smallest child, go down with the Bishop, on foot, with hymns to Gethsemane; where, on account of the great number of people in the crowd, who are wearied owing to the vigils and weak through the daily fasts, and because they have so great a hill to descend, they come very slowly with hymns to Gethsemane. And over two hundred church candles are made ready to give light to all the people. . .From that hour they go with hymns to the city on foot, reaching the gate about the time when one man begins to be able to recognize another, and thence right on through the midst of the city; all, to a man, both great and small, rich and poor, all are ready there, for on that special day not a soul withdraws from the vigils until morning. Thus the bishop is escorted from Gethsemane to the gate, and thence through the whole of the city to the Cross. And when they arrive before the Cross the daylight is already growing bright." (The Pilgrimage of Aetheria, M.L. McClure and C. L. Feltoe, ed. and trans., pp. 71-73).

The events between Aetheria's "first cockcrow"and "daylight," involving processions of large numbers of people celebrating Holy Week in Jerusalem, must have taken several hours to complete at a minimum. Another reference suggesting a gap between 'first cockcrow' and dawn:

"On the ensuing days everything is done as during the whole year, that is, vigil is kept in the Anastasis from the first cockcrow. And if it be the Lord's Day, at the earliest cockcrow the bishop first reads in the Anastasis, as is customary, the passage from the Gospel concerning the Resurrection, which is always read on the Lord's Day, and then afterwards hymns and antiphons are said in the Anastasis until daylight. But if it be not the Lord's Day, only hymns and antiphons are said in like manner in the Anastasis from the first cockcrow until daylight. . . The clergy go there at first cockcrow, but the bishop always as it begins to dawn, that the morning dismissal may be made with all the clergy present except on the Lord's Day, when (the bishop) has to go at the first cockcrow, that he may read the Gospel in the Anastasis." (The Pilgrimage of Aetheria, M.L. McClure and C. L. Feltoe, ed. and trans., p. 89).

The Apostolic Constitutions mention the "cock-crowing of the night," without explanation: "Do ye who are able fast the day of
the preparation and the Sabbath-day entirely, tasting nothing till the cock-crowing of the night. . ." (Apostolic Constitutions, Book 5, Section 3, Chapter XXVIII, p. 889). If a conventional middle-of-the-night time-frame is intended in any of these references, a gravitational pull must be expected to be exerted toward the 'natural' cock-crow of dawn, because that is when most of humanity say that the cock crows. Because the rooster starts crowing at first light, before the disk of the sun rises above the horizon, when 'rosy-fingered dawn' first comes on the scene, some people in antiquity thought him possessed of prophetic powers. He is a harbinger of sun-rise, not its herald. Weighty decisions of the Roman state were made on the basis of which way the chickens were scratching, a really bad idea, as the level-headed Cicero realized.

"Do you really believe that Jupiter would have employed chickens to convey such a message to so great a state?...But come; is there any time, day or night, when they are not liable to crow?...By the way, Democritus gives a very good explanation of why cocks crow before day. 'Their food,' he says, 'after it has been digested, is expelled from the craw and is distributed over the entire body. By the time that process is completed they have had sleep enough and begin to crow.' And then, 'in the silence of the night,' as Ennius says, 'they indulge their russet throats in song and beat their flapping wings.' In view, then, of the fact that this creature is prone to crow of its own volition at any time, and may be made to crow either by nature or by chance, how did it ever occur to Callisthenes to say that the gods conveyed prophecies to men by the crowing of cocks? (Cicero, On Divination, Book II, 26)

It may be that in this oft-quoted passage the Latin Ennius, and Cicero in citation, is in fact referring to the first cock crow rather than the second, the 'civic' rather than the 'natural' cock-crow. The reason for the second cock-crow is self-explanatory: the gathering light wakes the birds up. What requires explanation is why they crow "in the silence of the night," though Democritus may only have been thinking of the very brief period during which the day-proclaiming roosters serve as harbingers of the dawn.

Plutarch also possibly mentions the first cock-crow. Around midnight of his last day on earth, Cato had called for his physician and his steward, and after they performed a few chores for him, we hear that, "And now the birds were beginning to sing, and he sank asleep again for a while. When Butas had returned and reported that all was quiet about the ports, Cato, bidding him close the door, threw himself on the bed as if he were going to sleep for the rest of the night." (Plutarch's Lives, Life of Cato, Chapter LXX). If the "birds," presumably domestic fowl, were heralding the dawn, then what "rest of the night" could he have slept, if he had not instead committed suicide?

The author of the 'Recognitions of Clement,' whoever he was, was aware that the 'first cock-crow' was not the first light of dawn, but earlier in the night:

  • “When the day dawned which had been fixed for the discussion with Simon, Peter, rising at the first cock-crowing, aroused us also: for we were sleeping in the same apartment, thirteen of us in all; of whom, next to Peter, Zacchaeus was first, then Sophonius, Joseph and Michaeas, Eliesdrus, Phineas, Lazarus, and Elisaeus: after these I (Clement) and Nicodemus; then Niceta and Aquila, who had formerly been disciples of Simon, and were converted to the faith of Christ under the teaching of Zacchaeus. Of the women there was no one present. As the evening light was still lasting, we all sat down; and Peter, seeing that we were awake, and that we were giving attention to him, having saluted us, immediately began to speak, as follows: —
  • “'I confess, brethren, that I wonder at the power of human nature, which I see to be fit and suited to every call upon it. This, however, it occurs to me to say of what I have found by experience, that when the middle of the night is passed, I awake of my own accord, and sleep does not come to me again. This happens to me for this reason, that I have formed the habit of recalling to memory the words of my Lord, which I heard from Himself; and for the longing I have towards them, I constrain my mind and my thoughts to be roused, that, awaking to them, and recalling and arranging them one by one, I may retain them in my memory. From this, therefore, whilst I desire to cherish the sayings of the Lord with all delight in my heart, the habit of waking has come upon me, even if there be nothing that I wish to think of. Thus, in some unaccountable way, when any custom is established, the old custom is changed, provided indeed you do not force it above measure, but as far as the measure of nature admits. For it is not possible to be altogether without sleep; otherwise night would not have been made for rest.'”
  • (Recognitions of Clement, Book Two, Chapter 1, p. 160, ECF Vol. 8).

'Peter' endorses watchfulness as a spiritual discipline, whereas rising with the 'second' cock-crow is what every farmer does, nothing unusual nor requiring explanation. 'Clement,' the narrator, purports to be a Roman, who might be expected to count two cock-crows: "Two days, therefore, having elapsed, and while the third was dawning, I Clement, and the rest of our companions, being roused about the second cock-crowing, in order to the discussion with Simon, found the lamp still alight, and Peter kneeling in prayer." (The Clementine Homilies, Homily 3, Chapter 1, p. 502 ECF, Vol. 8).

A cock-crow in the dark reappears in the Martyrdom of the Holy Confessors Shamuna, Guria, and Habib, from Simeon Metaphras: "On the 15th of November, however, in the night, about the time of cockcrowing, the judge got up. He was preceded by torches and attendants; and, on arriving at the Basilica, as it is called, where the court was held, he took his seat with great ceremony on the tribunal, and sent to fetch the champions Guria and Shamuna." (Memoirs of Edessa and Other Ancient Syriac Documents, p. 1394, ECF 0_08). Notice torches are needed. Then comes a hearing, after which, "He then ordered a halberdier to take charge of the martyrs, and, putting them in a carriage, to convey them to a distance from the city with some soldiers, and there to end them with the sword. So he, taking the saints out at night by the Roman gate, when the citizens were buried in profound slumber, conveyed them to Mount Bethelabicla on the north of the city." (Memoirs of Edessa and Other Ancient Syriac Documents, p. 1396, ECF 0_08). Whether this is the same night or a night thereafter might be open to question, however their execution is carried out on the same date as the trial: "So he kneeled down along with Guria, and they were beheaded, on the 15th of November." (Memoirs of Edessa and Other Ancient Syriac Documents, p. 1397, ECF 0_08). Somehow the ancient Roman first cock-crow seems to have gotten embedded in this account, however that happened.

The midnight cock-crow reappears in the Zohar, a medieval revival of Jewish gnosticism: "At the time of cock crow, whether it be at midnight or break of day, the Holy One is found in the Garden of Eden, during which the defiled and impure are forbidden to pray or bless." (The Sepher Ha-Zohar, or Book of Light, Introduction, Exposition of Bible Mysteries, p. 69); "After midnight when the cock crows and birds begin to waken up, a wind from the northwest commences to blow, which is met by a current from the south." (The Sepher Ha-Zohar, or Book of Light, On the Study of the Secret Doctrine, p. 370); "As the voice ceased uttering these words a light flashed forth from the north, illumining the whole world and falling on the wings of the cock caused it to crow at midnight. At that time no one rises from his couch save those lovers of truth whose chief delight is in the study of the secret doctrine." (The Sepher Ha-Zohar, or Book of Light, The Call of Abram, Chapter LXXX, p. 334). This book however is of very little merit.

One ambiguous passage difficult to parse is excerpted from Proclus' On Magic, appended to Thomas Taylor's translation of Iamblichus' Life of Pythagoras:

"This will be evident from considering that the cock, as it were, with certain hymns, applauds and calls to the rising sun, when he bends his course to us from the antipodes; and that solar angels sometimes appear in forms of this kind, who though they are without shape, yet present themselves to us who are connected with shape, in some sensible form." (Iamblichus, Life of Pythagoras, p. 130).

When does the sun 'turn around,' and start coming back to us, from its station at the antipodes? At midnight. However, this is hardly a clear reference; perhaps he simply means the rooster's normal morning cry to greet the rising sun, said luminary having come, geocentrically speaking, from the antipodes, though not recently. If the intent of including this passage, however, was to clarify why Pythagoras counted the rooster sacred to the moon as well as to the sun, then perhaps it fits.

The Watch System

Roman military commanders set four watches during the night:

"The Volscians, under the command of Clælius, an Æquan, came first to Ardea, and drew a line of circumvallation around the enemy's walls. When news of this was brought to Rome, Marcus Geganius, the consul, having set out immediately at the head of an army, selected a place for his camp about three miles from the enemy; and the day being now fast declining, he orders his soldiers to refresh themselves; then at the fourth watch he puts his troops in motion; and the work, once commenced, was expedited in such a manner, that at sun-rise the Volscians found themselves enclosed by the Romans with stronger works than the city was by themselves." (Livy, History of Rome, Book IV, 9).

For the most part Greek generals set three watches and Greek historians count three. Mark and Matthew count four watches of the night, as do the Romans:

"And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea." (Matthew 14:25).

"And he saw them toiling in rowing; for the wind was contrary unto them: and about the fourth watch of the night he cometh unto them, walking upon the sea, and would have passed by them." (Mark 6:48).

Luke, it would seem, counts three, as do the Greeks for the most part:

"And if he shall come in the second watch, or come in the third watch, and find them so, blessed are those servants." (Luke 12:38).

Which of these two systems did the Jews themselves employ? This difficult question exercises some of the older Bible commentators, but we have fallen so far below their level that this 'one/two cock-crow' discrepancy has become a 'Bible contradiction.' The evidence of the Talmud is mixed: "Our Rabbis taught: The night has four watches. These are the words of Rabbi. R. Nathan says: Three." (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Berakoth 3b.) For what it's worth, "Great among singers of praise are the birds, and greatest among them is the cock. When God at midnight goes to the pious in Paradise, all the trees therein break out into adoration, and their songs awaken the cock, who begins in turn to praise God. Seven times he crows, each time reciting a verse." (The Legends of the Jews, Volume 1, Louis Ginzburg, Kindle location 604).

Mark 13:35 suggests an awareness of the reputed Roman system: "Watch therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming—in the evening, at midnight, at the crowing of the rooster, or in the morning— lest, coming suddenly, he find you sleeping." (Mark 13:35-36). Notice the rooster's crowing comes before "the morning." One suggestion:

"Watches of night. The Jews, like the Greeks and Romans, divided the night into military watches instead of hours, each watch representing the period for which sentinels or pickets remained on duty. The proper Jewish reckoning recognized only three such watches, entitled the first or 'beginning of the watches,' Lam. 2:19, the middle watch, Judges 7:19, and the morning watch, Ex. 14:24; 1 Sam. 11:11. These would last respectively from sunset to 10 P.M.; from 10 P.M. to 2 A.M.; and from 2 A.M. to sunrise. After the establishment of the Roman supremacy, the number of watches was increased to four, which were described either according to their numerical order, as in the case of the 'fourth watch,' Matt. 14:25, or by the terms 'even,' 'midnight,' 'cock-crowing' and 'morning.' Mark 13:35. These terminated respectively at 9 P.M., midnight, 3 A.M. and 6 A.M." (Smith's Bible Dictionary).

It is understandable that people living with Roman soldiers garrisoned in their midst would at least be aware of their schedule. Indeed, people living under military occupation might have been acutely aware of it, more so than the home folks. But the assertion, found in several of the Bible Dictionaries, that the Jews had adopted the Roman system, two cock crows and all, is insufficiently sourced. When Mark and Matthew count four watches (Matthew 14:25), did this reflect domestic usage or that of the intended readership? There are two possibilities: either Jesus counted two cock crows, with the Romans, and those evangelists who were writing to a non-Roman audience feared the 'two' would confuse their readership, or Jesus counted one, along with the majority of mankind, yet Mark realized this 'one' could confuse his Roman readership. In neither case is there a contradiction, only a good-faith effort to be understood.

If there was such a system as Macrobius describes, then why don't all Latin authors mention or employ it? Military practice can differ from civilian practice. For instance, in the United States, the military uses a twenty-four hour system, whereas the public at large uses a twelve-hour clock. Although most people in this country are aware of the military system, a cataclysm that destroyed almost all of our literature might leave the system with only scattered notice here and there in thrillers whose action is set on a military compound. Most Americans do not themselves use the twenty-four hour regime. Likewise, most Latin authors count cock-crows just as do the rest of humanity, with one of 'em, occurring just before, or at, the time of sun-rise. However several Latin authors do seem to be aware of the two cock-crow system described by Macrobius, and even the occasional Greek author like Heliodorus: "With a great effort he clung to consciousness, and terrified that someone might find him there, for the cocks were already crowing for the second time, he took to his heels, tripping and stumbling, blundering into walls and cracking his head time and again against door beams or such objects as were hanging from the roof, until, after taking many wrong turnings, he reached the room where he and Kalasiris were staying and there collapsed on his bed, shaking all over uncontrollably, his teeth chattering loudly." (An Ethiopian Story, by Heliodorus, Collected Ancient Greek Novels, edited by B. P. Reardon, pp. 447-448).

As should be apparent, night and day are of equal duration only twice a year, at the vernal and autumnal equinox. Yet their division into twelve 'hours' remains constant throughout the year, and so the ancient 'hour' is not of constant duration. How this system worked in detail is difficult to ascertain, given that authors writing in Latin tend to revert to the more natural, country way of counting cock-crows: one at dawn. Yet it is clear the Macrobian system, counting two, did exist, however widely it was disseminated. One interesting effort at reconciling the four-watch system with the two cock-crows is offered by William Hales, 'A New Analysis of Chronology and Geography, History and Prophecy,' pp. 14-15, available on Google books. While questions of chronology are difficult and perhaps unrewarding, those readers interested in their pursuit need not trouble to consult Bart Ehrman and the like; these people don't even know what the questions are, much less their answers.

For readers who want to continue their studies on this point, here is the Talmud passage which seems to count multiple cock-crows:

"We have learnt in accord with R. Shila: If one starts out on a journey before cock-crow, his blood comes upon his own head! R. Josiah says: [He should wait] until he has crowed twice, some say: Until he has crowed thrice. What kind of cock? The average type." (Babylonian Talmud Yoma 21a)

This occurs within the context of a discussion of the Misha addressing the Day of Atonement, "AND ON THE FEASTS AT THE FIRST WATCH, AND BEFORE THE COCKCROW APPROACHED THE TEMPLE COURT WAS FULL OF ISRAELITES, etc." Was the concern that night-time was the high-crime time as it is today? The Rabbis had a phobia about people going out at night, concerned that demons lie in wait. But this passage is too cryptic to verify the watch system, and in any case, there never was any third cock-crow watch. The Jews, though they suffered under Roman rule for centuries, never adopted the Julian calendar with its twelve artificial months totalling 365-1/4 days, but continued to use the Babylonian intercalated lunar calendar. They never counted days from midnight as did the Romans, but from evening to evening. So it is not safe to assume they would have adopted the Roman watches. And if they did divide the night into four watches, this is no guarantee they labelled them with the Roman names. In any event, what we have here is no 'Bible contradiction,' but two different watch-systems, one of which incorporates two cock crows, the other, one.


Bart Ehrman


As if to underscore the Lord's point, the cock did crow, twice:

"But he denied, saying, I know not, neither understand I what thou sayest. And he went out into the porch; and the cock crew." (Mark 14:68).

"And the second time the cock crew. And Peter called to mind the word that Jesus said unto him, Before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny me thrice. And when he thought thereon, he wept." (Mark 14:72).

This does not sound like a reference to a time-keeping convention, but rather to a matter-of-fact event. Animals do what they do,— and, I'm told, roosters are apt to crow at any time of the day or night,— and people attach significance, and notice, some of these behaviors, when they fit into their expectations. Perhaps Peter was challenged, after 'translating' the Lord's prophecy into the two cock-crow system, by the 'discrepancy' with the original version. Who knows, there may have been literalists, even in that day!: 'All right, Peter, which was it: one or two?' Perhaps upon reflection he realized both were accurate! These animals are, after all, prone to make noise at all times of the day and night. Perhaps it was only later in life, after he had come into contact with Roman folk and started to count, with them, two cock crows, that he realized the first outbreak which he recalled had had any special significance.

Needless to say, the 'rationalists' cannot accept the actual occurrence of any fulfilled prophecy, whatever time designations are employed. They are obliged by their world-view to transform this instance into a prophecy after the fact:

"The words attributed to Jesus so closely agree with the subsequent event, that the idea of a merely fortuitous coincidence is not to be here entertained. Occurring as they do in a tissue of prophecies post eventum, we must rather suppose that after Peter had really denied Jesus more than once during that night, the announcement of such a result was put into the mouth of Jesus, with the common marking of time by the crowing of the cock, and the reduction of the instances of denial to three. That this determination of time and number was permanent in the evangelical tradition (except that Mark, doubtless arbitrarily, for the sake of balancing the thrice denying by another number, speaks of the twice crowing of the cock), appears to be explained without any great difficulty by the familiarity of the expressions early chosen, and the ease with which they could be retained in the memory."
(Strauss, David Friedrich; Eliot, George (2014-02-07). The life of Jesus critically examined (Kindle Locations 18261-18267). Kindle Edition.)

. . .even though more than a few parties could recall having heard the prediction made, and so testified. Incidentally, in the tone of pompous declamation mingled with a slender stock of actual information, one cannot fail to recognize the inimitable tones of the German Enlightenment. For instance, we learn in the same opus that Jesus' forty day fast in the wilderness was supernatural, and thus legendary, because a fasting person cannot survive a week: "The forty days' fast, too, is singular. One does not understand how Jesus could hunger after six weeks of abstinence from all food without having hungered long before; since in ordinary cases the human frame cannot sustain a week's deprivation of nourishment." (Strauss, David Friedrich; Eliot, George (2014-02-07). The life of Jesus critically examined (Kindle Locations 6982-6984). Kindle Edition.) The newspaper-reader may recall the IRA hunger strikers in the prisons of Northern Ireland, demanding reclassification as political prisoners. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher contended with these people. Bobby Sands, one of the longer-lived of the hunger strikers, made it for sixty-six days if memory serves. On the other hand, if Strauss is talking about a no-water fast, then it is hard to see how a thirsty man in the desert could have lasted a full week. So what is he talking about? Realize, we are tossing out scripture on grounds of the purported impossibility of a forty-day fast. No prayer warriors, these, the German rationalists! What's more, this misapprehension about how long it takes for an individual to perish of hunger extends to the cross, where he soberly informs us that some crucified persons actually died of "hunger and similar causes:" "But crucifixion does not in other cases kill thus speedily. This may be inferred from the nature of the punishment, which does not consist in the infliction of severe wounds so as to cause a rapid loss of blood, but rather in the stretching of the limbs, so as to produce a gradual rigidity;. . .lastly, this opinion is supported by examples of individuals whose life has lasted for several days on the cross, and who have only at length expired from hunger and similar causes." (Strauss, David Friedrich; Eliot, George (2014-02-07). The life of Jesus critically examined (Kindle Locations 20241-20246).  Kindle Edition.). It is distinctly unlikely any person crucified under Roman crucifixion survived long enough to starve to death, although thirst might certainly have been an issue; how "a gradual rigidity" might kill anyone he does not explain. We here encounter the common tendency of the 'rationalists' to mistake whatever misconceptions happen to be banging around in their empty heads for the voice of reason.

Is Prophecy Possible?

It is sometimes pointed out in this connection that the Talmud restricts poultry-keeping in the Holy City:

"Ten special regulations were applied to Jerusalem: That a house sold there should not be liable to become irredeemable; that it should never bring a heifer whose neck is broken; that it could never be made a condemned city; that its houses would not become defiled through leprosy; that neither beams nor balconies should be allowed to project there; that no dunghills should be made there; that no kilns should be kept there; that neither gardens nor orchards should be cultivated there, with the exception, however, of the garden of roses which existed from the days of the former prophets; that no fowls should be reared there, and that no dead person should be kept there over night." (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Baba Kamma, 82b.)

And so it does; but these regulations could in no case restrict the activities of the Roman garrison, who also lived there. It seems unlikely that these regulations were observed perfectly by the native inhabitants in any event (no gardens?). While these strictures record the opinion of some that no poultry belonged in the holy city, others must have felt otherwise, because there certainly were cocks crowing; they are mentioned in the Talmud, although perhaps meant in the ideal, time-telling sense:

"At the upper gate which leads down from the court of the Israelites to the court of the women stood two priests, with trumpets in their hands. When the cock first crowed they blew a blast, a long note, and a blast." (The Babylonian Talmud, edited by Michael L. Rodkinson, Volume VII, Section Moed, Tract Succah, Chapter V, Location 29893).

Nevertheless, whatever people thought as to their propriety, cocks there were in Jerusalem: "There is repeated mention of 'cock-crow' in connection with the Temple-watches, and if the expression be regarded as not literal, but simply a designation of time, we have in Jer. Erub. x. 1 (p. 26a, about middle) a story in which a cock caused the death of a child at Jerusalem, proving that fowls must have been kept there." (Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Book V, Chapter XII, Kindle location 23814, Footnote 5832).


Are the other 'Bible Contradictions' any better than this one?

I Thirst Timothy the Gentile
Faith vs. Works Love Your Enemies
Paul the Maverick Seeing God
Realized Eschatology He Hanged Himself
Uncorroborated False Witness
Atonement Head Covering
Men and Angels From Everlasting
Preach the Faith Bishops and Deacons
Cock Crow Wrong Day
Two Genealogies Editor's Choice
Sermon on the Mount. . .or Plain

In addition to 'Bible Contradictions,' the atheists offer other Bible head-scratchers, like who was Cain's wife:

Bible Difficulties